Persimmons and Orzo

persimmonsPersimmons had starred in the salad for Thanksgiving dinner. One had graced a grilled cheese and persimmon sandwich for lunch. Several made a delicious snack at work along with leftover roasted chestnuts.

Still, six persimmons remained in the fruit bin in the fridge, and were by now in different degrees of ripeness. As I often do when I don’t want to lose something, I cook it off in some way.

So I sliced each persimmon into wedges, placed them in a roasting pan and tossed with avocado oil to coat (had this on hand and preferred it for its more neutral flavor, wouldn’t conflict with the persimmons). Then I slid the pan into a 400° oven to cook til they browned.

I put a pot of water on to boil, and added a half cup of orzo pasta, one of my favorite comfort foods. When it came to a boil again, I lowered the heat so it could simmer til done. Then I pulled out raisins and pistachios (the ones I had were dry roasted with salt), a small handful of each.

I put the raisins in a small bowl, and added rum for them to plump in (a favorite rum, almost like a bourbon, from La Colombe called Different Drum Rum). A nice way to add another layer of flavor.

I shelled the pistachios and chopped them.

I rolled a few leaves of basil together and sliced into thin ribbons.

Persimmons roasted 12/11/16I checked the persimmons after about 30 minutes, and turned them all to brown on the other side for an additional five minutes. I took them out and swore there was a custardy, vanilla-y smell to them.

When the orzo was done, I drained in a colander, then slid it all back into the pot, where I coated with a little avocado oil, and salt and pepper. Then, to echo the creaminess of the persimmons, I stirred one or two tablespoons of mascarpone cheese into the pasta.

Assembly: orzo first, topped with persimmon wedges, and then sprinkled with raisins, pistachios and ribbons of basil.

Roasted persimmons and orzo 2 12.11.16Each element brought its own treat, but nothing overwhelmed. Sometimes there’d be a bite that included a raisin, and there it was, that hint of warm alcohol. Or a back note of mint and realize it was basil. The pistachios added beautiful color with their purple and green, and a little salty crunch. The persimmons, roasted, went from their light, creamy sweetness to an almost caramelized mellow.

A delicious bowl of comfort food for one, soothing and satisfying on a cold night.

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Crumbled-Cornbread Cereal

cornbread cereal 3 1.25.14

I made cornbread just to have this.

Usually, it’s the other way around. I make it from leftover cornbread that I made for something else.

But, with the focus in the past couple of posts on alternatives  to my usual oatmeal  breakfast, this one came up to nudge me. I don’t remember where I first came across the idea, but it’s an old favorite.

Simple.

Break cornbread into a bowl. Add milk of your choice (I used soy). Add raisins if you’d like. Warm it in the microwave for 10 or 15 seconds at a time to get it to the warmth level you’d like. I also added pine nuts. And the last drizzle of farmers market honey.

Warm…and so good.

FYI, here’s my go-to cornbread recipe. It’s adapted from an old Better Home & Gardens cookbook received as a wedding gift years ago.

Preheat the oven to 425°.

Into a bowl, stir together:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (that’s what I used this time. I’ve also used spelt and whole-wheat pastry flour when I have them.)
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

Into a measuring cup, stir together, breaking up the eggs:

  • 1 cup milk (of your choice. Soy again for me.)
  • 1/4 cup neutral oil (I had canola.)
  • 2 eggs

Add  the liquids to the dry ingredients. Combine until smooth (don’t over mix). Turn into a greased 9x9x2-inch baking pan. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, when getting goldenish brown on top.

Raisiny Quinoa for Breakfast

quinoa cereal 2 1.4.14I eat hot oatmeal for breakfast almost every morning, even on some of the hottest summer days. And I enjoy it every time. This is a habit that began several years ago. I knew oatmeal was a good way to start the day, but I don’t think I’d expected to find it still satisfying years later.

I most often cook it with applesauce stirred in. Or diced apples, pears, mangoes…. A sprinkle of cinnamon. Three minutes in the microwave. A drizzle of honey or maple syrup or agave nectar. Usually with flax meal and wheat germ. A glass of soy milk on the side. Variations: sometimes fresh fruit instead of cooked, sometimes chopped nuts.

Of course, things—like The Holidays—can disrupt a good routine!

But, that’s the thing about a good routine, there comes a point where you find yourself being drawn back to it. The trigger for me the other day was the prediction of a substantial snowfall that would continue overnight. Knowing I’d wake up to a blanket of snow, and that I’d inevitably be doing some shoveling, had me craving hot cereal again.

When morning came, I reached for quinoa instead of oats. Decided to do a grain variation this time, as well as fruit.

I rinsed a cup of quinoa, put it into a pot with two cups of water, a cinnamon stick, and a good, generous handful of raisins (about a half a cup).

Brought it to a boil, turned the heat to low and simmered for 15 minutes. Fluffed with a fork.

quinoa cereal 7 1.4.14Scooped into two bowls (my husband and me). A drizzle of honey, a sprinkle of ground cinnamon, a few more raisins on top.

Reminiscent of rice pudding.

A good, hot breakfast before we bundled up to shovel that gorgeous snow.

Castagnaccio: Chestnut Flour Cake

chestnuts 1 12.7.13I was home a few weeks ago during the afternoon, and had the Cooking Channel on as background while I did some paperwork at my desk. I hardly ever have TV on as background. Either I’m watching it, or it’s off. It’s distracting to me otherwise, and I can’t fully focus on the task at hand.

But, maybe because it was just me in the house that day (my husband works from home, so the rhythm of two people going about their business is often enough going on), and maybe because I don’t often have the luxury of just having cooking shows on in the middle of the day, I turned the TV on.

I half-listened to a few episodes that day, but the one that took me from my desk and put me in front of the TV was one that was all on chestnuts.

It was an episode of David Rocco’s Dolce Vita. The show features Italian-Canadian Rocco cooking and eating in Italy.

I was mesmerized by all the things he made with chestnuts. It was chestnut harvest time, and, like anything when it comes into season, while you have it, you find all kinds of ways to use it.

I don’t think I knew how taken I am with chestnuts until I found myself sitting there, enthralled.

Roasted chestnuts were part of every Christmas Eve growing up, whether the family gathering was at our house, my grandparents’, or my aunt and uncle’s. The chestnuts, so inevitably and informally placed in the middle of the table on a well-worn cookie sheet, hot and ready to peel, echoed the generations before, pulling roasted chestnuts from ovens, or fireplaces, or outside fires.

Peeling away the shell, where the X had been slit into it with a knife so that they roasted and didn’t burst. The soft, sweet texture inside. All of us around the table. Peeling. Eating.

And they were hot. But best hot, because the outer shell and inner papery layer were easier to pull away. Some came out whole and beautiful. Some in pieces, with the papery part more challenging to peel off. Some were burned. You ate around that.

Until I began to see chestnuts in recent years, already peeled, either jarred, canned, or frozen, I hadn’t really thought about anything other than roasting. I came across a recipe for chestnut soup, and tried that one year. Very good.

I became conscious of chestnut flour at my local natural foods store, but intentionally didn’t buy it, waiting until I had something specific to use it for.

And David Rocco’s chestnut episode brought it to me: castagnaccio, a chestnut flour cake.

I was intrigued, printed out the recipe, and downloaded all the others from the show as well, knowing that castagnaccio would be my dessert for book group the following week, and that chestnuts would be my next food trilogy here.

This cake is simple to make, and a cake in the sense of something formed into a shape rather than something that rises. The list of ingredients: chestnut flour, raisins, pine nuts, rosemary, orange zest.

Castagnaccio

Adapted from two David Rocco versions (slight variation in proportions), one from the Cooking Channel’s website, one from his cookbook, Made in Italy, in which he refers to it as Tuscan Chestnut Pizza, a possibly more accurate physical description.

  • 14 ounces chestnut flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • Leaves from a sprig or 2 of fresh rosemary
  • Zest of 1 orange

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a mixing bowl combine the flour, sugar, salt, and water. You can add one- to two-thirds of the orange zest to the batter, or save it all to sprinkle on top. Whisk the batter until silky smooth in consistency, pancake-batter-like.

Add the olive oil to a round pizza pan. (I have a paella pan, whose base is 12″, which turned out to be a perfect size.) Heat the oiled pan in the oven for 5 minutes. The oil and pan should be so hot that when you add the batter, it sizzles.

Smooth the batter evenly over the pan. Sprinkle the raisins, pine nuts, rosemary, and orange zest (all or whatever didn’t get stirred into the batter) on top.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. It should be golden on top, and pull away from the pan.

I brought this to my book group, with a container of vanilla gelato.

chestnuts 3 12.7.13This was a first for all of us, so we took that first bite and really considered it.

Dense, nutty. Raisins added a juicy sweetness. Richness from the pine nuts. Brightness from the orange zest. Woodsy rosemary. Not a cake in the traditional sense, but once we got used to that chestnut base, I think we all enjoyed the combination…and the gelato was a nice touch!

My husband and I ate the leftover castagnaccio that week. Sometimes with the gelato, but mostly on its own. I came to like this more and more with each piece.

It is of the season: nuts, dried fruit, citrus, hearty herb.

I want to make it again.

I’m thinking for Christmas Day.